I was recently reminded of the high level of professionalism and respect with which we should treat the American judicial system and each other, when I was sworn in as a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. I highly recommend this endeavor should you have the opportunity. As part of an American Bar Association group, I attended the first Monday in June Supreme Court announcement of decisions and swearing in. In the group were other members of the Oklahoma Bar including another member of the Oklahoma County Bar, two Tulsa lawyers and two McCurtain county lawyers. Coincidentally, I had met almost all of them previously. Happily, the nominator/sponsor for our group read the names of applicants by state of Bar membership and alphabetically. This seemed to add to the high view of the occasion.
On that Monday, decisions were read by Justice Kagan, Justice Alito and two by Justice Sotomayor. They were all unanimous opinions. No 5-4 splits or polarizing disputes on this Monday. OCBA member Kerry Maye keeps track of these things and tells me that over the years the average is just above 80% of decisions are made with 6-3 or higher affirmative votes. Chief Justice Roberts masterfully supervised the session. Afterwards, our group was fortunate enough to have 15-20 minutes with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who answered questions and met with us. She did not have to do this but chose to do so. She is my oldest daughter’s, who is a practicing lawyer in California, legal hero. She would have loved to switch places with me and hopefully she can someday. I also obtained an autographed biography of Justice Sotomayor, who spoke to our local law schools a few years ago. Justice Ginsberg is extremely small and speaks softly. We were warned not to bump her and cause her to fall. I can just imagine that headline. She lit up when discussing her summer travel plans that sound absolutely exhausting. She was delightful. I have a deep abiding respect for her position, the person she is and the function she fulfills as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
As a litigator and trial lawyer, I see lawyers push lines in the name of advocacy on a regular basis. Also, attorneys comment on social media about jury verdicts and legal issues when they apparently have no factual bases or legal knowledge to support their opinions. I was recently in court before one of our newer Oklahoma County District Court judges and noted several lawyers who did not stand up when making announcements for a motion docket. That was unheard of when I was a young lawyer. If you were the unlucky one who failed to stand up you were usually called out for it in front of the rest. Many of the old rules have gone away, most for the better. However, respect for the judge and court have not and should not pass by. It is likely that all of this conduct contributes to the loss of civility and respect with which we treat each other.
I have included a photo of the John Marshall monument located in the Supreme Court building on the first floor. On our trip we were able to tour several areas of the building and study its history and architecture. Chief Justice John Marshall, although he was the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, is widely known for his impact on the Supreme Court and its role in government. His quotes are inscribed in court rooms across the U.S., his name on high schools, his cases foundational studies at law schools, and many of them are easily recognizable, such as: “As men whose intentions require no concealment generally employ the words which most directly and aptly express the ideas they intend to convey, the enlightened patriots who framed our Constitution, and the people who adopted it, must be understood to have employed words in their natural sense, and to have intended what they have said.”
Seemingly, plain spoken words of clear intent continue to have value 200 years later. Another take away from the Supreme Court tour was that our actions reflect on our profession. The architecture, history and decisions of our highest court parallel the growth of U.S. culture. If you fail to respect our judicial system including judges, jury verdicts and other attorneys, then regular people without law degrees cannot be expected to respect them either. They will follow your poor example of adding to the noise. Justice does not mean that your side wins or that the jury verdict is always in your favor. Justice means that the American judicial process has concluded with a result. Also, our nation’s capital has an abundance of great restaurants and good eating (in case you were wondering).
I recently read in the Washington Post excerpts from Chief Justice Roberts’ commencement speech at his son’s ninth grade graduation from a private prep school Cardigan Mountain School in New Hampshire. His comments generally focused on young men of privilege to be humble and loyal. He hoped they would have adversity in life so that they would know how to handle success. Objectively speaking, it was a very good speech given the age and the audience. A much broader audience than those ninth grade boys, Justice Roberts is in a position of power but may well be sending a much needed message to others.
Treat others with professional behavior and demeanor. I encourage you all to do a better job commenting and posting social media that displays our profession as honorable and respectful. After all, most of us have taken an oath when sworn into the Oklahoma Bar, the federal district court bars, possibly the Tenth Circuit Bar, other State Court Bars and maybe even the Supreme Court of the United States. Those oaths should mean something. For your consideration is the Oklahoma Lawyer’s Creed:
I revere the Law, the System and the Profession, and I pledge that in my private and professional life, and in my dealings with members of the Bar, I will uphold the dignity and respect of each in my behavior toward others.
In all dealings with members of the Bar, I will be guided by a fundamental sense of integrity and fair play.
I will not abuse the System or the Profession by pursuing or opposing discovery through arbitrariness or for the purpose of harassment or undue delay.
I will not seek accommodation for the rescheduling of any Court setting or discovery unless a legitimate need exists. I will not misrepresent conflicts, nor will I ask for accommodation for the purpose of tactical advantage or undue delay.
In my dealings with the Court and with counsel, as well as others, my word is my bond.
I will readily stipulate to undisputed facts in order to avoid needless costs or inconvenience for any party.
I recognize that my conduct is not governed solely by the Code of Professional Responsibility, but also by standards of fundamental decency and courtesy. Accordingly, I will endeavor to conduct myself in a manner consistent with the Standards of Professionalism adopted by the Board of Governors.
I will strive to be punctual in communications with others and in honoring scheduled appearances, and I recognize that neglect and tardiness are demeaning to me and to the Profession.
If a member of the Bar makes a just request for cooperation, or seeks scheduling accommodation, I will not arbitrarily or unreasonably withhold consent.
I recognize that a desire to prevail must be tempered with civility. Rude behavior hinders effective advocacy, and, as a member of the Bar, I pledge to adhere to a high standard of conduct which clients, attorneys, the judiciary and the public will admire and respect.
1. Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. (9 Wheaton) 1 (1824)
2. Robert Barnes, Washington Post; https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/ July 2, 2017.
Byline: Michael W. Brewer is an attorney, founder, and partner of Hiltgen & Brewer, PC in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. To contact Mike, email email@example.com, call (405) 605-9000 or tweet him at @attymikeb. For more information, please visit http://www.hbokc.law.